Some still operational while
others at a stand still due to virus outbreak

TRI-CITY AREA — Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many local industries have either shut down or are operating with skeleton crews.

Gear Master essential

Among the exceptions is Almont’s Gear Master, Inc., located at 7451 Research Drive, whose primary markets include Aerospace, Defense, Medical and Electric Vehicle (EV). As such, Gear Master, Inc. employees are deemed “essential” workers because they perform services critical to national and state infrastructure.

The company’s “essential” status was made official in a Homeland Security directive dated March 19, 2020; followed up with a memo from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 23, 2020.

Terry Roach, Director of Sales at Gear Master, Inc., said the plant has “remained operational” during the statewide shutdown; while remaining focused on the health and safety of its employees.

Preventative protocols include daily disinfecting of the facility’s equipment, door handles and a temporary ban on employees leaving the facility during break hours and lunch.

Additionally, Roach said all receiving and shipping is being conducted outside the building to limit non-employees from entering the facility.

“Our employees are our most important asset and we have taken the necessary COVID-19 preventative measures in the workplace to protect our employees,” Roach said. “When we were defined as “essential services” we provided all employees a memo to keep with them during travel to and from work to justify their transportation in the event local authorities stopped them.”

Roach noted that the business has taken initiatives to adjust the work schedules for two employees, whose spouses are working with COVID-19 patients.
“Those employees are not working with any other employees until further notice to keep them segregated from everyone else,” said Roach. “Our office staff, including myself, are working a rotating schedule of being in the office versus working from home to only have one person in the office at one time.”

Roach said Gear Master Inc. had applied for the Small Business Association’s PPP Stimulus program, which was approved on Wednesday.

“The funding will help with our payroll, rent, utilities and medical premium costs over the next two months,” said Roach. “During the shutdown, our business has been impacted with new orders down 90 percent and receivables down 80 percent.

“We are working on a six-month plan, ending in August, that would require the economy to improve for us to sustain full employment heading into the fourth quarter this year.”

Roach remains optimistic that the state’s economy can reopen in May.

“Any further delays beyond May would be very difficult to overcome this year,” he said. “It has been very stressful but we are fortunate to have a strong backlog of business to work from during this time. We look forward to getting back to normal, or the new normal as soon as possible.”

Keihin winds down

At Capac’s Keihin Manufacturing, which had recently announced plans to permanently close its doors in February of 2021, only a handful of employees remain.

Plant Manager Bo Shirling said there is currently no production taking place at the plant. He noted, however, that the company’s onsite medical clinic remains open to accommodate Keihin associates.

“We run production and shipping operations as needed,” Shirling said, “but it is not a daily activity and it is very limited.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had some shipments for overseas and we brought in a small crew for one line to make shipment,” Shirling said. “Other than those overseas parts, the rest of April doesn’t have much activity.”

Despite the ongoing pandemic and lack of production, Shirling said plans for the plant’s closure in 2021 should not be affected.

Vlasic plant is busy

While production has been reduced at many local industries, little has changed at Imlay City’s Vlasic Foods plant.

Now owned by Conagra Brands, the pickle-producing facility on Blacks Corners Rd. is still operating at full capacity.

Daniel Hare, Community Relations representative for Conagra Foods, said about 600 employees are currently working at the Imlay City facility.

“We have approximately 600 employees at our facility in Imlay City,” said. “We are continuing to operate all shifts.”

Hare added that Conagra’s response to the COVID-19 virus is focused on “keeping our employees safe.”

He alluded to Conagra’s official COVID-19 safety protocol, which includes:

•Social distancing practices that include the installation of plexiglass barriers between work stations where people work less than six feet apart.

•Staggering shift and start times.

•Using face masks and shields in facilities.

•Reformatting breakrooms and limiting conference room usage.

•Continuing rigorous plant maintenance and sanitation processes.

“We also emphasize the importance of practicing safe behaviors and practices outside of the workplace, such as social distancing, personal hygiene, sound judgment and taking guidance from medical professionals.”

Meanwhile, Hare said Conagra Brands continues its support for Feeding America, by donating the equivalent of nearly 20 million meals for Americans since mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.